Special Prosecutor incurred over $9 million in costs on case against Trump

Ecclesiastes 5:8 If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still

Important Takeaways:

  • Special counsel Jack Smith tallied about $5.4 million in personnel, rent and other expenses on his own budget and prompted about $3.8 million in spending by other Justice Department agencies in the roughly four months after he was tapped by Attorney General Merrick Garland last November to lead the classified documents probe as well investigations related to efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, according to figures DOJ released Friday.
  • Those figures may dramatically underestimate Smith’s total spending since they only account for his activities through the end of March
  • The report also highlights the unusual nature of Smith’s investigations and the strong reactions they have generated.
  • The new report doesn’t indicate how much the Justice Department spent on the related investigations in the months before Smith, a former head of DOJ’s Public Integrity Section, agreed to leave his job as a war-crimes prosecutor in Europe and return to Washington to take over the politically sensitive Trump probes.
  • By contrast, a special counsel appointed in January to look into President Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents discovered in his Delaware home spent $615,000 through March and led other parts of DOJ to incur about $572,000 in expenses

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U.S. Justice Dept says inmates sent home due to COVID-19 will not be returned to prison

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday announced it would not force federal inmates who were sent home due to the coronavirus pandemic to return to prison once the emergency is lifted.

The decision represents a major reversal for the department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which previously had issued an opinion which said the Bureau of Prisons had no legal authority to keep inmates at home once the pandemic emergency had subsided.

It also marks a victory for criminal justice advocacy groups who have fiercely lobbied the department and the White House to take steps to ensure that law-abiding, low-level inmates would not be forced back into prison.

“Thousands of people on home confinement have reconnected with their families, have found gainful employment, and have followed the rules,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.

In 2020, Congress passed the CARES Act, which broadened the Justice Department’s authority to release low-level inmates into home confinement during the pandemic to ease crowding and reduce the spread of COVID-19.

But in January of this year, the department’s Office of Legal Counsel issued a controversial opinion which found that once the emergency is lifted, the federal Bureau of Prisons “must recall prisoners in home confinement to correctional facilities” if they do not otherwise qualify to remain at home.

Dozens of advocacy groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Justice Action Network and FAMM – a group that opposes mandatory minimum sentences – have urged the Justice Department to overturn that opinion.

They have also pressed the White House to use its clemency powers to commute the sentences of those who were sent home.

Garland said on Tuesday that he is also planning to direct the BOP to launch a rulemaking process that will ensure that inmates in home confinement will “be given an opportunity to continue transitioning back to society” and will not be “unnecessarily returned to prison.”

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Lawmakers ask U.S. Justice Department to stop seeking death penalty

By Jonathan Allen

(Reuters) – Four members of the U.S. Congress working to abolish capital punishment wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday to ask that he order Department of Justice attorneys to stop seeking the death penalty.

Garland has already ordered a pause on scheduling execution dates for any of the 46 men on federal death row, saying in his July announcement a moratorium was necessary while his department reviewed whether the government’s protocols for capital punishment were fair and humane.

The four Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives say he and his department’s attorneys should go further and “halt all participation in the capital punishment system.”

“In conjunction with the moratorium on executions, Department of Justice prosecutors must stop seeking the death penalty,” Adriano Espaillat, Ayanna Pressley, Jerrold Nadler and Cori Bush wrote in their letter. “The inconsistent logic of halting executions while, at the same time, advocating for its use has grave consequences.”

Espaillat and Pressley have sponsored separate bills that would abolish the federal death penalty.

U.S. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, took office in January as the first president to promise to end capital punishment, but has not yet issued any orders related to the practice. Most other countries have outlawed capital punishment, as have a majority of U.S. states.

The Justice Department previously had a de facto moratorium on carrying out executions during the administration of Barack Obama, but capital punishment prosecutions continued and the federal death row grew larger.

Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, revived the use of capital punishment in an extraordinary spree of 13 executions over his final months in office – 12 men and one woman all convicted of murders and sentenced to death in federal courts. Prior to Trump, a Republican, the U.S. government had executed only three prisoners since 1963.

The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.

In recent months, the department has directed attorneys to withdraw capital punishment requests before federal courts in seven prosecutions, the New York Times reported.

The lawmakers ask in their letter why those cases were chosen, and whether any broader policy exists.

The department has not withdrawn efforts to seek capital punishment in other cases, including that of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was convicted of bombing the Boston Marathon in 2013, killing three people and wounding hundreds. Department attorneys are preparing to argue before the Supreme Court later this year that it should reinstate Tsarnaev’s death sentence, which was overturned by a lower court.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

U.S. probes Phoenix police use of force, treatment of protesters

By Jan Wolfe

(Reuters) -The U.S. Justice Department has opened an investigation into whether police in Phoenix unlawfully have used deadly force, retaliated against peaceful protesters and violated the rights of homeless people in the latest such inquiry involving a major American city, officials said on Thursday.

Since President Joe Biden took office in January, the department also has launched civil rights investigations into police conduct in Minneapolis and Louisville, Kentucky. Those were among the U.S. cities where large 2020 protests were held after high-profile killings of Black people by police officers.

The inquiries mark a shift in the department’s focus under the Democrat Biden, who has made racial justice a priority in contrast with the administration of his Republican predecessor Donald Trump.

Phoenix, with a population of roughly 1.7 million, is Arizona’s capital and largest city – and the fifth most populous city in the United States.

Attorney General Merrick Garland and Kristen Clarke, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, announced the investigation at a news conference. Garland said such probes are “aimed to promote transparency and accountability.”

Racial justice activists have accused Phoenix police of carrying out unlawful surveillance, arrests and malicious prosecutions of protesters. Last month, Phoenix police responding to a mental health call shot and killed a man who pointed an object at them that turned out to be a water gun, authorities said.

Clarke said the Phoenix investigation has the full support of the city’s mayor and police chief.

“We look forward to working together with the city and the Phoenix police department toward the shared goals of ensuring constitutional policing and fostering greater cooperation between law enforcement officers and the community that they serve,” Clarke said.

Justice Department lawyers have met with close to 1,000 community members in Minneapolis and Louisville, and received written messages from hundreds more, Clarke said. Justice Department lawyers have also met with command staff of police departments in Louisville and Minneapolis, Clarke added.

“We will take the same approach in Phoenix,” Clarke said.

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego in a statement welcomed the Justice Department review, adding, “Comprehensive reform of policing in the city of Phoenix has been my priority since the first day I took office.”

U.S. police use of force has been in the spotlight in the aftermath of a series of deadly incidents in various cities in recent years, with protests around the country following the death of a Black man named George Floyd in Minneapolis in June 2020 – a crime in which a police officer as been convicted of murder. Louisville officers last year fatally shot Breonna Taylor, an unarmed Black woman, in a botched raid.

Clarke said police officers must use their authority in a manner that does violate the constitutional rights of people, complies with federal civil rights laws and “respects human dignity.”

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Additional reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix; Editing by Will Dunham, Scott Malone and Richard Chang)

U.S. Justice Department to launch new crackdown on firearms trafficking

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Justice Department this week is formally launching a new effort to crack down on firearms trafficking, in a strategy that involves the creation of five strike forces that will partner with local law enforcement to disrupt criminals selling guns used in crimes.

The strike forces, which were first announced in June, will be concentrated in “significant gun trafficking corridors” including New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

As part of the launch, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco will pay a visit to the Washington D.C.-based headquarters of the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) on Thursday, after which Garland will travel to Chicago to meet with federal and local law enforcement.

“All too often, guns found at crime scenes come from hundreds or even thousands of miles away. We are redoubling our efforts as ATF works with law enforcement to track the movement of illegal firearms used in violent crimes,” Garland said in a statement.

Justice Department officials said in a call with reporters late on Wednesday that the plan entails a “long-term coordinated, multi-jurisdictional strategy” to disrupt trafficking patterns.

One department official said the new strategy differed from prior efforts to step up the prosecution of firearms offenses, noting it establishes “cross-jurisdictional coordination” between the areas that supply the illegal firearms and those where the guns are used to commit crimes.

“This new approach that links law enforcement and prosecutors and locations where violence is occurring with the law enforcement and prosecutors in the jurisdictions where the firearms originate broadens our focus to ensure a comprehensive and coordinated response in both of those areas,” the official added.

The Justice Department also said that federal law enforcement is stepping up efforts in other ways as well.

For instance, the U.S. Marshals Service recently conducted a sweep with state and local authorities to pick up fugitives wanted for state crimes such as murder, aggravated assault and rape.

Since May 31, more than 700 fugitives have been arrested, 361 of whom were wanted for murder, the official said.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Peter Cooney and Steve Orlofsky)

U.S. lays out plan to confront white supremacist violence

By Jarrett Renshaw and Jan Wolfe

(Reuters) -President Joe Biden’s administration on Tuesday unveiled a plan to address the threat of violence posed by white supremacists and militias, five months after members of those groups joined in a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The White House released a 30-page plan for increased information sharing between federal and local officials and social media companies, additional resources to identify and prosecute threats and new deterrents to prevent Americans from joining dangerous groups.

The administration conducted a sweeping assessment earlier this year of domestic terrorism that labeled white supremacists and militia groups as top national security threats. The issue took on new urgency after a Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump who were trying to overturn Biden’s election victory.

The new strategy stopped short of calling for new laws to fight domestic threats, and officials on Tuesday did not offer many details on specific new resources.

“We concluded that we didn’t have the evidentiary basis, yet, to decide whether we wanted to proceed in that direction or whether we have sufficient authority as it currently exists at the federal level,” said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of the announcement.

In a speech on Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in the “coming days and months” he would convene an interagency task force dedicated to combating domestic terrorism. Garland said he has already “begun to reinvigorate” that task force.

Garland said the Jan. 6 attack by Trump supporters had shown white supremacists and militia groups to be the country’s greatest domestic security threat.

“In the FBI’s view, the top domestic violent extremist threat comes from racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists, specifically those who advocated for the superiority of the white race,” Garland said.

In his budget proposal released last month, Biden, who succeeded Trump on Jan. 20, sought $100 million in additional funding to train and hire analysts and prosecutors to disrupt and deter terrorist activity.

“The threat is elevated,” the administration official said. “Tackling it means ensuring that we do have the resources and personnel to address that elevated threat.”

The administration is also toughening the federal government’s screening methods to better identify employees who may pose insider threats. They are looking to share those techniques with private companies.

That effort includes an ongoing review by the Department of Defense over how and when to remove military members who are found to be engaged in known domestic terrorist groups.

The Defense Department review is looking at, among other things, how to define extremists, the senior administration official said.

“They are doing this in a way they feel ratchets up the protection but also respects expression and association protections,” the official said.

(Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw;Editing by Howard Goller)

U.S. spike in domestic terrorism ‘keeps me up at night,’ attorney general says

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland asked Congress on Tuesday to provide more funding for investigating and prosecuting domestic terrorism, saying it poses an “accelerating” threat that keeps him up at night.

Garland, who had served as a federal appellate judge and federal prosecutor before President Joe Biden nominated him to lead the Justice Department, was testifying about the department’s budget request for the 2022 fiscal year.

“We have a growing fear of domestic violent extremism and domestic terrorism,” Garland told a U.S. House of Representatives budgeting subcommittee. “Both of those keep me up at night.”

He did not name specific violent groups, but members of the far-right Proud Boys and Oath Keepers are among the more than 400 people arrested for the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by former President Donald Trump’s supporters.

The hearing marked Garland’s first appearance before Congress since being confirmed as the nation’s top law enforcement officer in March.

He told the House panel that the lethality of weapons available to both foreign and domestic terrorists has increased, and that the Justice Department is “putting its resources into defending the country with respect to both”.

“We have an emerging and accelerating threat,” Garland said.

He highlighted in his opening remarks that the Justice Department is requesting $85 million in additional funding from Congress to bolster its efforts to combat domestic terrorism.

Garland said the department is also seeking a “historic investment” of $1 billion in its Office of Violence Against Women, and that the budget proposal includes a $232 million increase in funding to help combat gun violence.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Scott Malone and Mark Heinrich)

U.S. Justice Department ends Trump-era limits on grants to ‘sanctuary cities’

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department has repealed a policy put in place during Donald Trump’s presidency that cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in grants to sanctuary cities that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

In an internal memo seen by Reuters, acting head of the Office of Justice Programs Maureen Henneberg said that prior grant recipients, including cities, counties and states that were recipients of the department’s popular $250 million annual grant program for local law enforcement, will no longer be required to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as a condition of their funding.

She also ordered staff to take down any pending Justice Department grant applications with similar strings attached and start the process over again.

In the memo, Henneberg, who leads the department’s largest grant-making arm, said she had instructed staff to “pull down and revise all solicitations that describe requirements or priority consideration elements or criteria pertaining to immigration.”

“These solicitations will be reposted and grantees will be required to reapply,” she added.

It is one of a series of decisions by Attorney General Merrick Garland, an appointee of President Joe Biden, to break with policies put in place during the Trump administration. In another high-profile move, the Justice Department has stepped up investigations of U.S. police departments that face charges of brutality or discriminatory tactics.

Shortly after being sworn in, Biden overturned a Trump executive order that had allowed the Justice Department to pressure cities that refused to notify federal immigration authorities when people living in the U.S. illegally have been detained for criminal violations, including minor ones.

Garland on April 14 ordered the department to begin to implement the change.


The policy reversal marks a major victory for states and cities that have been unable to access awards they received through the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants program, known as “Byrne JAG.”

Named for a New York City police officer killed in the line of duty, the Byrne JAG grant program is the Justice Department’s leading source of reimbursement to state and local law enforcement to pay for a variety of initiatives, from prosecutions and corrections programs, to drug and mental health treatment centers.

In fiscal year 2020, the program doled out more than $253 million in grants.

Trump made cracking down on immigration, legal and illegal, a centerpiece of his administration.

Some cities and states resisted his efforts by adopting “sanctuary” policies, arguing that close cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities can deter immigrants from coming forward to report crimes.

The fight to withhold Byrne JAG grant money prompted numerous lawsuits, as jurisdictions, including Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco sued the Justice Department on the grounds that withholding the money was unlawful.

In one of those lawsuits brought by New York state, New York City and six other states, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in February 2020 sided with the Trump administration and ruled it was entitled to withhold millions in grant money.

The plaintiff states appealed to the Supreme Court, but the appeal was later withdrawn after Biden won the 2020 election.

The Justice Department and the plaintiffs jointly asked a federal judge in March to put the matter on hold, while the department finished reviewing the grant conditions at the heart of the case.

The New York Attorney General’s office said that during the last four years, the state hasn’t been able to tap more than $30 million in grant money from the Justice Department as a result of the pending litigation.

The Justice Department’s decision to cease using immigration-related criteria will apply to all of the department’s grants, according to the memo, as well as notices posted by several other Justice Department offices that award grants.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Scott Malone, Aurora Ellis and Steve Orlofsky)